Rules that limit – in a bad way

I picked up a book off the “new” shelf at the library: Color Lab for Mixed-Media Artists by Deborah Forman. I am only a few pages into it, but I’ve already been inspired to get out my pastels and play a bit.

Paging through the beginning of the book, I came to the inevitable section on “materials.” This section always bothers me —a list of “must haves” that determines whether you will succeed or not in this how-to venture. And it has always felt to me like the art materials industry has a hand in every list, because the number of materials would require a small bank loan to afford them all. But in fact, this materials section had in it something that did the opposite for me: Forman assures the reader that it’s okay to use any medium because ultramarine blue will be ultramarine blue whether it’s in gouache, oil or pastels.


I have had this box of pastels for years, and there is barely any sign that they’ve been removed from their soft foam packaging. Until I read Forman’s notes on materials to use, I didn’t even recognize that I’ve had a block about this medium for all this time. In my head I have had cautions and fears about using pastels. “With pastels, you have to have the right paper.” “Don’t use pastels unless you have fixative on hand.” “You need special instruction on using pastels.” Some of this I know came from books I’ve read, and the rest I’m not really sure.

At last, I have realized I can use pastels if I want to. I don’t have to follow any preset rules. Why did I think I did in the first place?

We are all picking up rules as we move through life. You have a bad experience, you make it into a rule for how not to have that experience again. But do you know what your rules are? Until now, I was unaware that my pastel rules were limiting me.


What rules do you have? What medium have you avoided because you were afraid of using it wrong? What other rules are you living by that are preventing you from exploring and playing?